US Pharm. 202145(4):15-16.

Serious Lung Infection

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that is usually caused by bacteria or viruses. These germs can be inhaled into the lungs from the environment or acquired from direct contact with infected particles. The air sacs in the lungs may fill with fluid and pus due to the inflammation from the infection, which causes the symptoms of pneumonia. Pneumonia severity can range from mild to life-threatening depending on the cause and the person’s ability to fight infection. Most people with pneumonia are treated at home with oral medications, plenty of fluids, and rest. Severe cases of pneumonia may require treatment in the hospital with oxygen and medications and with fluids given through the vein.

Pneumonia Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention With Pneumococcal Vaccine

Millions of people are affected by pneumonia every year in the United States. More than 1 million people are hospitalized for pneumonia and about 50,000 people die every year. Pneumonia can happen at any age but more commonly affects children younger than age 5 years or people older than age 65 years. People who smoke or vape or who have chronic heart or lung disease, diabetes, or weakened immune systems are at higher risk of developing pneumonia.

People catch pneumonia in the community or in a healthcare facility such as a hospital or nursing home. Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common bacterial cause of pneumonia, whereas influenza virus, rhinovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus are the most common viral causes.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Common symptoms of pneumonia include cough, often with thick mucus, fever, chills, chest pain, exhaustion, and trouble breathing. Elderly people may also be weakened or confused. Babies might be irritable or vomit. A doctor should be seen if pneumonia is suspected.

To diagnose pneumonia, the doctor will check the medical history, do a physical exam, and listen to the lungs with a stethoscope. The doctor might take a chest x-ray or order blood tests to look for infection. A CT scan of the chest or sputum culture may be needed to confirm the type of pneumonia.

Treatment Options

The treatment for pneumonia depends on the patient’s risk factors and the cause and severity of the pneumonia. If viruses caused the pneumonia, antibiotics will not help. A doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine, if appropriate, to speed up recovery. If bacteria caused the pneumonia, antibiotics will be prescribed. Rest and adequate fluids are critical for all pneumonias. If an antibiotic is prescribed, it is important to finish the entire course to prevent the infection from recurring, even if a person feels better after a couple days. Symptom relief with cough medication to help remove mucus, fever reducers, oxygen, and inhaled medications to help open the airways may be considered. Although symptoms tend to improve within a few days, it may take a month or longer to recover completely.

Prevention With a Vaccine

There are several ways to prevent pneumonia. Frequent hand washing or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, covering the nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing, throwing away tissues immediately, and wearing a mask can minimize the spread of germs. Avoiding smoking and vaping maintains the lungs’ natural defenses against lung infections. Getting enough sleep, regularly exercising, and eating a healthy diet keep the immune system strong.

Vaccines help protect individuals from pneumonia. Annual vaccination against the influenza virus is recommended. A pneumococcal vaccine is also available, but vaccination recommendations are based on a person’s age, such as those aged 65 years or older or younger children, and other existing medical problems such as chronic lung and heart disease, diabetes, and weakened immunity. It is important to ask the doctor about which pneumococcal vaccines to get, when to get them, and in what order, since the recommendations have changed over the past several years.